Back in September last year, Professor Stephen Hawking, probably the world’s best known scientist, attracted front page headlines across the world by claiming in his book ‘The Grand Design’ to have ruled out God as the reason for the existence of the universe. Hawking argued that the law of gravity was all that was needed to bring the universe into being.
I am not aware of many intelligent responses to Hawking’s argument, but I did post a blog about a short response from Professor Misbah Deen. Hawking is a hugely influential scientist and atheist so it is a shame that not many Muslim scholars seem to have the training in the sciences to be able to respond to his arguments.
Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I came across a very fine response to Hawking from John Lennox, a Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University (and a Christian) entitled ‘God and Stephen Hawking: Whose design is it anyway?‘
The book is quite short at just 96 pages and is very well argued. Here is a sample passage:
“Hawking’s faulty concept of God as a ‘God of the Gaps’ now has serious consequences. This ‘more science, therefore less God’ kind of thinking inevitably leads Hawking to make the mistake (frequently made by Richard Dawkins and others) of asking us to choose between God and science; or, in Hawking’s specific case, between God and the laws of physics. Talking about M-theory (his chosen candidate for a final unifying theory of physics), Hawking writes: ‘M-theory predicts that a great many universes were created out of nothing. Their creation does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god. Rather, these multiple universes arise naturally from physical law.’
“A supernatural being or god is an agent who does something. In the case of the God of the Bible, he is a personal agent. Dismissing such an agent, Hawking ascribes creative power to physical law; but physical law is not an agent. Hawking is making a classic category mistake by confusing two entirely different kinds of entity: physical law and personal agency. The choice he sets before us is between false alternatives. He has confused two levels of explanation: agency and law. God is an explanation of the universe, but not the same type of explanation as that which is given by physics.
“Suppose, to make matters clearer, we replace the universe by a jet engine and then are asked to explain it. Shall we account for it by mentioning the personal agency of its inventor, Sir Frank Whittle? Or shall we follow Hawking: dismiss personal agency, and explain the jet engine by saying that it arose naturally from physical law?
“It is clearly nonsensical to ask people to choose between Frank Whittle and science as an explanation for the jet engine. For it is not a question of either/or. It is self-evident that we need both levels of explanation in order to give a complete description. It is also obvious that the scientific explanation neither conflicts nor competes with the agent explanation: they complement one another. It is the same with explanations of the universe: God does not conflict or compete with the laws of physics as an explanation. God is actually the ground of all explanation, in the sense that he is the cause in the first place of there being a world for the laws of physics to describe.”
Lennox’s book is convincingly argued and I thought it was an improvement over his last book, God”s Undertaker: Has science buried God? – which I thought relied a bit too much on some rather questionable arguments from Intelligent Design proponents.